Victorian Bride Ships

‘The Cinderella Colony of Western Australia’

Research from ‘An Australian Parsonage’ by Mrs Millet, published 1872

‘ Of the single girls we had more than sixty on board our ship, and one fortnight’s acquaintance with them had sufficed to show us that they were a most unpromising set; and moreover, our early impression that several of them had made acquaintance with the inside of a jail was not at all effaced by the experience and events of the voyage’.

The Tartar ship left London October carrying 118 passengers including Mrs Millet & her husband Edward, the newly appointed chaplain of York in WA, as well as the 50 young female Lancashire cotton weavers. Arrived Fremantle 12 December 1863.

‘The proportion of single adult males was eleven to every single adult female.’ Inquirer, 11th November 1863, Perth, Australia.

The Bride Ships by Rica Erickson, Hesperian Press 1992

Experiences of Immigrants Arriving in Western Australia 1849 -1889

‘As the passengers came on board their names were listed and each was allotted a berth number. Married couples occupied berths amidships, single males were accommodated forward in the dark part of the ship near the crew. The single women’s compartments were separated from both by a partition. Each section was divided into messes, or groups of six ( in larger vessels there were messes of eight). One in each mess was chosen to be responsible for the behaviour of the others. They descended below decks by steep ladders, shown to their numbers berths and instructed how to hoist a bench table, at night, between the tiers of bunks and fasten it to the deck above with iron bars. The bunks, ranged on either side of the table, were like coffins, one above the other, with little headroom. A small curtain gave a little privacy to each.

Women could wash on bath days in a large wooden tub wearing a shift and screened by canvas.

Those in charge of the messes brought down the daily issue of rations and supervised the fair division of food. Food could be salt pork, potatoes and peas with ginger pudding, hard biscuits always. They ensured that all utensils were cleaned and properly stowed away after meals, and that the bedding was aired on deck, weather permitting, at least twice a week. They usually won a small gratuity and several privileges on board for their duties.’

‘All were then mustered on deck, segregated as they would be below decks with married couples standing between the servant girls and the lads. After rollcall they listened to a recital of ship’s regulations. These were posted up, but not all the passengers could read. The most unwelcomed rule forbade communication between the single women and males.’

‘The first few days at sea were usually rough and tested the stomachs of the passengers who had never before been at sea. Below decks the air was foul with vomit, but few people had the strength to climb the hatchway ladders and pace the heaving decks for a breath of fresh air.’

Books and sewing materials were donated by organisations like the British Ladies Female Emigration Society. Literacy lessons, games and library books were sometimes provided.

‘The pilots long boat put off from Rottnest to guide them into safe anchorage. Another long boat from Fremantle came alongside bringing the Colonial Immigration officer and the Colonel Surgeon. The immigrants were lined up in order on the deck for the last time.’

‘The arrival of any ship at Fremantle always created a flurry of activity. Colonists in the most isolated settlement in the world were always avid for news.’

‘Most of the single women were Lancashire lasses who were thrown out of work when cotton mills closed down as a consequence of the Civil War in North America. British ships blockaded the North American ports in retaliation for the sinking of a ship, and this prevented the export of raw cotton to Lancashire….left thousands of people…. in abject poverty.

Donations to the Lancashire Relief Fund were sent from the British Colonies to save families from starvation. Under these circumstances Lancashire mill lasses were glad to migrate. One of the girls on the Tartar, although only 23, looked like a wrinkled old woman. She ate ravenously and soon became plump.’ (from Mrs Millet’s account)

‘The newly renovated Poorhouse-Home, Fremantle was ready to receive over a hundred immigrants when the Tartar came in Dec 1863. Pauper inmates were segregated on the upper floor while the immigrants occupied the ground floor in a long room divided into separate spaces by wooden partitions.’

Mrs Millett thought the immigrants lodgings were bare, cold and meagre, but was pleased to see they were perfectly clean, well ventilated and water could be obtained by the bucketful from a well in the yard.

Life at the Home and depot was boring for idle inmates. The matron supervised the usual tasks of sewing garments and laundering of linen from the hospital and gaol.’

China Blue by Jan Gothard, Melbourne University Press 2001

Single Female Migration to Colonial Australia

Between 1850 and 1900, seventeen thousand single British women accepted an assisted passage to Western Australia. Without assistance, working class women would never of afforded the long sea voyage and in return these women would solve the colonies domestic servant problem and become the future wives and mothers of WA. They were subject to routine and rigorous examinations of health and character, controlled  on the passage out and after their arrival, until the colonial government had seen them safely with employers or relatives.

Relatively few single working class women wrote diaries which have survived, more likely emigrant diaries were written in the form of a letter home. Sisters or female cousins may have been possible recipients of journals. But these were the very women who so often followed the adventurous pioneer out to the colonies. So the chances of working class women’s journals surviving were far more remote than those sent back to middle class families of the cabin passengers. Therefore working class emigrant women are less visible, but due to the ‘double control’ of immigrant authorities are perhaps more visible in government archives.

Middle class women’s philanthropic work “benevolent maternalism’ was undertaken to safeguard  women and to protect colonial homes. It was ideal for women as paid domestic servants to be trained under the eye of a middle class mistress.

‘Getting on, bettering oneself and enhanced employment opportunities, joining family and friends were major reasons to emigrate.’

‘In the 1860’s prospective emigrants were advised that ‘Female domestic Servants, who really understand their business, are in great demand in Australia, and are sure to obtain immediate employment at good wages’.

‘In 1863, when conditions in Lancashire were poor, the Duke of Newcastle approached all the Australian colonies to accept unemployed female cotton weavers as prospective immigrants. None responded favourably, although all but Western Australia were happy to accept other single women qualified in domestic service. W. A alone reported few employment prospects for any immigrants. Yet it was to W.A that the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners sent 50 young female Lancashire cotton weavers….all found employment.’

Advertisements

One thought on “Victorian Bride Ships

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « Yardworks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s